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Movie

We’re the Millers
(2013)

 

Last summer’s surprise hit comedy is more notable for what it doesn’t do than what it does, given its major selling points. It’s a pot comedy in which no one smokes any pot. It also features Jennifer Aniston as a stripper who doesn’t actually strip. And it’s replete with gross-out and sex gags but reveals itself to be deeply, deeply conservative in nature. Oh, and most importantly of all, it’s a comedy that isn’t terribly funny.

This is one of those laughers that has come together (or fallen apart) through improvisation. Sometimes that works (Anchorman) sometimes it doesn’t (here). Rawson Marshall Thurber had a big hit a decade ago with a comedy that is funny, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story, but his modus operandi here seems to be that, if he gives his players enough slack, they’ll come up with the goods. Which fails resoundingly.

The premise is sound enough, as one that might eke out a few chuckles, even given the stretch of its drug smuggling backbone; an unlikely quartet pose as a family in order to courier two metric tonnes of weed across the border from Mexico (the stupidest part of this, not that I should really be looking for logic anyway, has a drug dealer who’d for some reason actually believe he’d be paid £100k to smuggle a tiny amount of weed). You’ve got the small-time dealer “dad” (Jason Sudeikis), the stripper “mom” (Jennifer Aniston), the virgin “son” (Will Poulter) and the runaway “daughter” (Emma Roberts).

All easy, obvious hooks on which to hang mirth. And (of course!) through the hijinks that ensue they come to know the meaning and importance of a real nuclear family! Isn’t it adorable! But as it’s R-rated and edgy really, throw in a ball-biting spider (and because it hasn’t been done umpteen times, show the inflamed results too, as that hasn’t been par for the course at all since There’s Something About Mary. The hilarity!) And some jokes about big black cocks (basically an uninspired version of When Harry Met Sally’s loony Charades game) and swingers (really? Is this 1975?)

As non-descript a lead as Sudeikis is, and as ineffectual a comedian, he fares better than Ed Helms as his drug-dealer boss. Helms is a complete wash out, repeating painfully unfunny from riffs about his pet killer whale and new-found passion for ice sculptures. It’s horrific to see him dying so resoundingly.  Aniston is a good sport, but she was funnier in Horrible Bosses. Both Poulter and Roberts acquit themselves well, and it’s telling that the most amusing scene involves the girl Poulter is besotted with walking in on “mom” and “sis” teaching him how to kiss (that’s right, the brand comedians don’t contribute).

Nick Offerman and Kathryn Hahn as fellow RV holidaymakers are also improvising like crazy, but because they maintain character and all-important deadpan they have a better hit ratio than Sudeikis (Hahn has a particularly good line about throwing a hot dog down a hallway). But this movie is the predictable face of current US comedy movies all over. It must feature a toothless cavalcade of affirmative encounters punctuated by as many tiresomely predictable crude, witless or crass gags (speaking of which Luis Guzman is an “any role any time anywhere” guy these days, isn’t he?) If the approach is that any given nob gag will hit the spot, it’s no wonder the result is as a limp as this (there’s even “enough” material for an extended version; I’d hoped those were on the way out).

The only upside to this picture is that if features weed, yet somehow Seth Rogen doesn’t appear. Maybe because he wasn’t allowed to get off his tits. Sudeikis does his best to be as nearly as charmless a lead. I haven’t minded him elsewhere (although, come to think of it, I’m only really conscious of him from Horrible Bosses). If this is a Chevy Chase Vacation movie in all but name, and without Chase, it bodes horribly for Sudeikis assuming the mantle of Fletch in the upcoming Fletch Won. This is exactly the type of movie that becomes a big hit out of nowhere and then no one can remember how or why they saw it, or even if they saw it, a year later. A much more likeable movie (nothing great, but likeable, which is a key distinction) about a fake family came out a few years back called The Joneses. Somehow that one managed to pull off the trick of bringing them all together at the end without making the viewer feel physically ill.

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